It was tough trying to decide if this is the worst film I’ve watched this year but once the credits roll on this 120 minute fantasy/action title, I had my answer. Yes. The Great Wall is one of the worst film I’ve seen so far in 2017.
The film picks up right out the gate with William (Matt Damon) and Tavor (Pedro Pascal) being chased on horseback through the Chinese wilderness who eventually end up at The Great Wall where a vast, multi-coloured human army are tasked with battling the Tai’tol – deadly unstoppable dog-like monsters that attack the wall every sixty years in their tens of thousands. After around 45 minutes or so we’re given a minute of expository dialogue to explain why they do this before its on to the next big action set piece.
The biggest problem with The Great Wall, beyond the storytelling (or lack thereof) is with its pacing and characterisation. It’s blisteringly fast pace zips along at such a rate that when it does eventually slow down for some awkward dialogue, complete with a wonky Matt Damon accent that seems to change every scene, you just want the action to start again as the wooden characters just aren’t likeable or are enough to root for. The writing is lazy at the best of times and I can’t help but feel it would have benefited from another half hour or so to pad out the story and actually give the characters decent motivations before jumping straight into 120 minutes of action scenes.
Aside from William, none of the other characters have a compelling reason or motivation to do the things they do. Each character is a walking cliche that does nothing to help gain a connection to the audience. The walking klutz who redeems themselves at the end? Yep, they’re here. The child trying to fill their parent’s shoes following a tragedy? They’re here too. The antihero trying to decide whether to be a hero or be selfish? We have bingo! All the lazy cliches are here in abundance and I found the best part of this film was trying to spot how many were on parade.
Within fifteen minutes we see the first big battle in all its CGI glory and although the battles themselves are very well choreographed and eye pleasingly colourful, the lack of character development I mentioned means the action (and there is a lot of it) is pointless as I didn’t care about any of the characters. It’s like watching a series finale of a show without seeing the other 11 episodes that came before – or watching the battle for Helm’s Deep in the Lord Of The Rings if it was literally just hordes or orcs and elves without any of the heroes.
The plot hole ridden story stumbles along from big action set piece to the next before ending on arguably the worst ending to any monster movie I’ve seen. Worse than the bus scene from Independence Day: Resurgence, the tipping point for me was how the monsters were eventually defeated. ‘Dumb’ is pretty much the nicest word I can think of to describe this. I won’t spoil anything for those who want to watch it but suffice to say, it was the deciding factor for just how awful and pointless the writing and film in general are.
It’s a shame that The Great Wall falls flat on its face within the first half hour or so. It has potential and with a more carefully crafted script and some serious reworking of the dialogue and ideas, the film could be a pretty decent action film but as it stands, The Great Wall hits a great big brick wall and never gets going from the off. I really wouldn’t recommend this film to anyone – watch the trailer as it pretty much shows the best bits of the action and that’s the only redeeming part of this film.